CURRAN SAYS FCC RULE CHANGE SHOULD MAKE COMPARING LONG DISTANCE PLANS EASIER
Baltimore - Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., says consumers will benefit from a change in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules for long distance companies. As of July 31, 2001, companies that provide interstate long distance telephone service will no longer file a document called a "tariff" with the FCC that explains the companies’ rates, terms and conditions of service. Instead, the companies must now make that information available directly to the consumer.
"This change should make it easier for consumers to find out what they are paying for their long distance telephone service and what other long distance companies charge," Curran said.
Curran said consumers should read bill inserts and letters from their long distance companies, as many companies will use them to inform customers of their rates and conditions. Also, as of July 31, every long distance company must post information about all of its domestic calling plans on its Web page, if it has one. Each company must post information about its international calling plans by January 28, 2002.
The Attorney General urged consumers to shop around for long distance service. Before they do, he suggested they first review their past long distance bills to determine how many minutes of long distance calls they make a month, and at what times (daytime, evening or weekends) they made the calls. For example, a person who makes very few calls should choose a plan with a low monthly fee. A person who makes a lot of long distance calls would want to focus first on getting a low per-minute cost and then consider the monthly fee.
When evaluating the calling plan they currently have, as well as others they might consider switching to, Curran says consumers should ask:
• What is the price of the plan, and how is the final cost computed? (What is the per-minute rate? Are so many minutes included for a flat fee? Are calls priced differently for day, evening and weekend? What are the time periods for day, evening and weekend? Is there a monthly fee? Is there a monthly minimum charge? Is there a per-call minimum charge? Do I have to sign up for online billing or credit card/checking debit in order to get this calling plan?)
• What other surcharges or fees do you charge, and how much are they?
• What is the duration of the agreement?
• How will you notify me of changes to rates or conditions?
• How will we resolve any disputes?
A list of the websites of many long-distance companies is available at the website www.abtolls.com
Curran said that "de-tariffing" also means the consumer will now deal with the long distance company by means of an individual contract. The contracts will be protected by state laws governing contracts as well as consumer protection law.